MOUNT DESERT — A little murder and a lot of laughs just might be the perfect way to end a hot and busy summer here on Mount Desert Island.
For those inclined to such wicked good fun, the Acadia Rep has just the thing with their final production of the season, “Murdered to Death,” now playing in Somesville.
For decades, the Rep has trotted out one of Agatha Christie’s mysteries to wrap up the performance season. However, this year’s play is a gentle spoof of Christie’s polite parlor murders, and it delivers all the expected eccentric characters plus a decent mystery. But because playwright Peter Gordon has dialed up the color and volume quite a bit on these familiar folks, there should be a lot more guffaws than gasps from the audiences.
There’s the retired colonel and his stuffy wife (Michael Kissin and Chris Dougherty), the lonely widow and her mousy niece (Chloe Hatcher and Mary Paola), the mysterious young couple (Mike Perlman and Hannah Kulus), the creepy butler (Frank Bachman), the bumbling inspector and his assistant (Arthur Morison and Jonathan Wells) and finally the septuagenarian sleuth (Julie Ann Nevill) who sorts out the suspects and untangles the web of murderous intrigue without dropping a stitch of her knitting.
MDI high school student Paola, who looked perfectly lovely as she passed out programs before the show, transformed herself with gawky, nervous body language and exaggerated facial expressions into an awkward, plain Jane as Dorothy, the diffident personal assistant to her aunt Mildred. Bachman couldn’t have been more marvelously menacing as Bunting, the butler filling the room – a parlor of course – with his hulking, brooding presence. Perlman, an MDIHS grad, pulled out his best Pepe Le Pew French accent as Pierre Marceau, the art dealer and suspected forger.
Hancock resident Morison, as Inspector Pratt, grabbed most of the laughs with his over-the-top amalgam of Inspector Clouseau, Mrs. Malaprop and the good Rev. Spooner. But the real surprise amongst these talents was Dougherty, who heretofore has played her role backstage assembling costume ensembles for the Rep actors. On stage here for the first time as Colonel Craddock’s stuffy wife Margaret, she summons up Bette Davis at her imperious best. While she never says “what a dump!” you know she is thinking it throughout the play. Elizabeth Braley, by the way, who has assumed the costume design duties, does a marvelous job evoking both the period and the characters with her outfits.
The other cast members do a swell job as well, especially Nevill as the very, very thinly disguised Miss Marple character Miss Maple, (I said thinly) the annoyingly nosy neighbor no one wants to invite to dinner because, like Mary’s little lamb, murder tends to follow her wherever she goes. Kissin also is perfect as the dithering Colonel Craddock, and Wells as the hapless Constable Thompkins is adorable as he tries unsuccessfully to redirect the inspector to a more suitable and productive line of inquiry, bringing to mind Donald Trump’s beleaguered campaign advisors. Hatcher as the lovelorn Mildred was fine, although she needs to project a bit more, and Kulus as the devious beauty Elizabeth was both devious and beautiful. Although the pace at Sunday night’s performance lagged in few places, Cheryl Willis’s direction was lively and fun, and the murder was committed and solved in a fast two hours; excellent set and stage dressing as well.
“Murdered to Death” runs through Sept. 4. For dates, times and reservations, call 244-7260 or visit www.acadiarep.com.